Puritan Graves

The Granary Burying Ground in downtown Boston is best known for the Founding Fathers interred there: Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, and John Hancock among them. Founded in 1660, it is the third oldest cemetery in Boston and thus contains many more ancient monuments.

The oldest stone marks the graves of four children of Andrew Neal, dated 1666. It is the work of a craftsman known alternately as “The Old Stone Cutter” and “The Charlestown Master.”

Nearby is the grave of Elizabeth Elliot, who died in 1680 aged 96, which means that she was born in the reign of Elizabeth I and died toward the end of the reign of Charles II, a momentous span.

The tombstone of John Checkley gives the date of his decease as January 1684/5. Until 1750 the Civil or Legal Year began on March 25, while popular New Year’s celebrations were held on January 1, so both dates were often given to avoid confusion.

The Granary Burying Ground served the Puritan congregations of Boston and so the stones contain the familiar Puritan motifs seen throughout New England: the winged death’s head in particular.

C.S. Lewis on Science Fiction

Douglas A. Anderson at A Shiver in the Archive has republished an anecdote about C.S. Lewis originally told by Frank Arnold.

Arnold was one of a group of science fiction writers and fans who met at the Globe Tavern in Holborn in the early 1950s. On one occasion Lewis joined them together with his (future) wife Joy Davidman and his brother Warnie. Apparently Davidman was a regular at these meetings. Arnold writes:

The first distinguished author to call on us at the Globe was no less a man than C. S. Lewis (Out of the Silent Planet, The Screwtape Letters, etc.). One of the great scholars of his time, Professor Lewis was forthright in upholding his own views on all questions of history, literature and theology. If they happened to coincide with fashionable opinion, well and good, but if they did not – well, it was rough luck on fashionable opinion! When he came to the Globe, Lewis did not really know who we were, nor did he need to – enough that here was The Master enjoying an evening off among admiring pupils. What a feast of conversation we had that evening! Lewis hated and loved SF in almost equal measure, and I shall never forget how his eyes lit up when I chanced to mention Lindsay’s Voyage to Arcturus. ‘An evil book,’ he called it, with relish, for he was as strongly devoted to it as I am. So far from sharing A. M. Low’s belief in the blessings of science, Lewis believed that science was the especial gift of Satan – a view which has since been propagated by many much less exalted thinkers and agitators.

Lewis’s moderating cynicism about science and science fiction undoubtedly elevated his own brilliant Space Trilogy, which should be read alongside 1984 and A Brave New World.

Tolkien Answers Amazon

In a 1958 letter, J.R.R. Tolkien explained his disapproval of an ultimately unmade film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. About the filmmakers, he wrote,

they may be irritated or aggrieved by the tone of many of my criticisms. If so, I am sorry (though not surprised).

But I would ask them to make an effort of imagination sufficient to understand the irritation (and on occasion the resentment) of an author, who finds, increasingly as he proceeds, his work treated as it would seem carelessly in general, in places recklessly, and with no evident signs of any appreciation of what it is all about.

The canons of narrative in any medium cannot be wholly different; and the failure of poor films is often precisely in exaggeration, and in the intrusion of unwarranted matter owing to not perceiving where the core of the original lies.

Emphasis added.

As the Amazon corporation prepares to release its new Lord of the Rings prequel series, these words seem especially relevant. From the trailer and the marketing, this series seems to be built upon the intrusion of unwarranted matter, incompatible with Tolkien’s meticulous lore.

Western Philistinism

The celebrated Russian conductor Valery Gergiev has been fired from his position at the Munich Philharmonic because he declined to repudiate Vladimir Putin. He is likewise banned by The Scala in Milan and the Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden. The Metropolitan Opera in New York has blacklisted all Russian performers. The Royal Opera House in London will no longer host the Bolshoi Ballet.

I have never in my life seen such naked bigotry so piously held. I doubt this stings our Russian friends any less for the absurd hypocrisy and pettiness of it. Can you imagine an American or a British artist being told to—what?—appear in a televised hostage video denouncing his country?—or else be fired?

Obviously I am not so naive or idealistic as to believe that the arts are some rarified sphere, capable of bridging cultures when even diplomacy fails. At this point even classical art in the west is buried under propaganda. But more than ever our cultural institutions seem small. They are not only run by ideologues, they are run by philistines.

See also: The New World Order in Crisis.

Update: The Telegraph reports: “Daniil Medvedev told he will be banned from Wimbledon unless he denounces Vladimir Putin.” Medvedev is the No. 1 tennis player in the world.

Update: Not even the Russian masters are safe! The Cardiff Philharmonic has cut Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” from its forthcoming program. Bicocca University of Milan cancelled its course on Dostoevsky, finally reversing the decision in the face of public ridicule.

The Screwtape Legacy

This year is the eightieth anniversary of the publication of The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. Brenton Dickieson has written an excellent history of the work (complete with interesting ephemera) at A Pilgrim in Narnia. The book was wildly successful at the time. It played a crucial role in the establishment of Lewis as a public figure. Dickieson observes that in the famous issue of Time depicting Lewis on the cover, “he is described as a ‘celebrity’ whose platform was built upon The Screwtape Letters.”

A Spitalfields Tour

The Gentle Author is crowdfunding a walking tour of Spitalfields in East London. It draws from the centuries of cultural history documented on his blog, Spitalfields Life. The tour would challenge a market cynically dominated by Jack the Ripper. The Gentle Author writes,

I am appalled that educational institutions send classes of students and school children on the exploitative serial killer tours which display autopsy photographs of women in the street, indulging in ghoulish humour at the expense of these victims.

Instead, I am offering visitors the opportunity to meet a member of the local community and learn something of the infinite variety of life that has evolved in London’s first suburb over two millennia. For the past two years, I have been developing and road-testing THE GENTLE AUTHOR’S TOUR OF SPITALFIELDS which I plan to launch this spring.

A donation of £100 or more includes two complimentary tickets.

Introduction to James Fenimore Cooper

JAMES FENIMORE COOPER: A LIFE
Paperback, 376 pp (Winchester, UK: John Hunt/Chronos Books, 2016)
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Prologue
New York City
February 25, 1852

It is five months since the death of James Fenimore Cooper, an evening in late winter. The island of Manhattan glows softly against the darkness. Some four-and-a-half thousand street lamps are blazing between the East River and the Hudson. Crowds in their multitude assemble outside Metropolitan Hall on Broadway opposite fashionable Bond Street. The great avenue is always busy with people. From the Battery to Union Square, Broadway is a carnival of shops, hotels, theaters, grand homes, and restaurants. A British tourist around this time likened the congestion of people here to all the traffic of the Strand and Cheapside in London squeezed onto Oxford Street.

Metropolitan Hall is a jewel of the avenue. The imposing theater is the largest in America. Only the opera houses of Milan, London, and Havana are larger. It anchors an entertainment district that spans south to P.T. Barnum’s American Museum and north to the Astor Place Opera House. Tonight the traffic of Broadway, still a two-way street, seems to converge upon the theater. 

People arrive by horse-drawn carriages. They arrive on foot. The night is cold, coming off of a balmy day. Temperatures hang just above freezing. By morning the city will be blanketed in fog. The Hall is illuminated, inside and out, by modern gas lamps. The people now filtering in are bathed by warm light. They enter a vast space of brightness and ornament; they greet one another as they take seats. This is, an early biographer of Cooper would later write, “the most cultivated audience the city could boast.”

A number of famous men take seats upon the stage: Daniel Webster, the former senator from Massachusetts and sitting secretary of state; Washington Irving, the great essayist and author; Ambrose Kingsland, mayor of New York; and William Cullen Bryant, editor of the New York Post. At eight o’clock, Irving steps forward to address the crowd. He says only a few words, praising “the genius of one” who is entitled “to the love, respect, and admiration of every American.” He is speaking of Cooper.

The event is a public memorial for the late author of The Last of the Mohicans. It is, on the surface, unremarkable that such an event should be held. James Fenimore Cooper was America’s first novelist and one of its first celebrities. Over the course of a prolific career he created an enduring national mythology. Yet there is a deeper significance to this gathering.

Irving introduces Daniel Webster, who steps forward. The great orator praises Cooper for his “literary productions, taste, talent, and genius.” The audience applauds when he says that Cooper’s writings “were patriotic—American throughout.” Letters are read from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Nathaniel Hawthorn, Herman Melville, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, honoring Cooper. 

The man is to be remade in marble—figuratively, through these accolades—and, perhaps, literally, as the proceeds of the evening will go toward the commission of a statue. All of this is natural, of course. But the man of flesh and blood and passion does not yield so easily to the transformation. There is a hint of controversy. In Melville’s letter, the author of Moby Dick writes of Cooper, “It always much pained me, that for any reason, in his latter years, his fame…should have apparently received a slight, temporary clouding, from some very paltry accidents, incident more or less to the general career of letters.”

William Cullen Bryant takes the podium. He was a personal friend and speaks at length about Cooper’s life. During the course of his address he names the controversy to which Melville had alluded. “Scarce any thing in Cooper’s life was so remarkable,” Bryant says, “as his contest with the newspaper press.”

Cooper had become embroiled in the politics of the Jacksonian period. Through a series of mutual provocations and misunderstandings, Cooper, a Jackson Democrat, embarked on a long, bitter, public war of words against the newspaper editors aligned with the rival Whig party. The field of battle advanced from the printed page to the courtroom. Bryant paints a flattering portrait of Cooper’s conduct and outcome in the affair: he “behaved liberally toward his antagonists,” while “vindicating himself to his readers,” and chastening the press into “docility” and “good manners.” In fact, Cooper lost much to the controversy. At the time of his death he had only just begun to repair a career that had been brought almost to ruins.

It is significant that Washington Irving and Daniel Webster are involved in the proceedings. Indeed, Irving is chairman of the memorial committee. Notwithstanding their national prominence the involvement of these two men is counter-intuitive. Cooper had treated Irving poorly in life, rebuffing his friendship and insulting him to mutual friends. It was a private matter, tangential to Cooper’s larger public battles, but well known within their literary circle. Although Cooper and Webster had no history, Webster was, is, and always shall be the most celebrated figure associated with the Whig party.

Some critics take issue with these speakers. Some find the selection of Webster unsuitable, dismissing his eulogy as commonplace or without substance. But the audience seems, by their applause, to understand the extraordinary gesture being made: Cooper is now reconciled with his country. The controversies of his life are put to rest, the wounds healed. Let there be no question of his genius or his patriotism.

The man begins to fade from memory. His books alone are left to posterity. Cooper’s vision of America was romantic and ambiguous, focused on the meeting point of wild places (forest, sea) and hard, persevering men. His greatest creation, Natty Bumppo, the frontiersman featured in his most enduring work, became a symbol of the American spirit. Natty, like his author, chafes against the limits of American life. Over the course of five novels Natty serves the cause of civIlization while retreating from its encroachment. His final bitter victory is to die with the frontier rather than submit himself to human law or join the company of his fellow men.

Cooper was at once a champion and critic of American society. While abroad in Europe he defended his country against foreign opinion with crusading zeal. At home he was the devil’s own advocate toward American democracy and culture. He opposed the great men of his day. Yet here they were, at Metropolitan Hall, to honor him. These contradictions cannot be untangled without losing some truth about the man and his age.  

What do we learn by studying Cooper? According to Daniel Webster, “we may read the nation’s history in his life.” Let us go back then to the beginning. The life of James Fenimore Cooper and the history of the United States begin, together, in a different, younger land.

The New World Order in Crisis

My initial thoughts on Russia and the Ukraine: It is a scandal that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization outlasted the collapse of the Soviet Union. Why was it not disbanded in 1991 with the defeat of Communism? Why were the American troops occupying Germany since partition in 1945 not sent home? Commercial and cultural ties should have been allowed to form a basis of alliance between Western Europe and Russia to everyone’s benefit. Instead the United States has used NATO to harass and contain the Russian Federation as though it were the Soviet Union, which it is not.

These questions are rhetorical, but honest. Over the past thirty years America has expanded its own empire in Europe, rapaciously absorbing the territory surrendered by Moscow. NATO has blown past the limits guaranteed to Gorbachev in the early 1990s and is attempting to cross a well-marked red line.

The United States has now provoked a Russian invasion of the Ukraine. Over the past half decade the US has been positioning NATO weapons and biological weapons labs in that country on the very border of Russia. In recent weeks the US rejected Russia’s entirely reasonable demand for assurances that the Ukraine would not be assimilated into NATO. Thus war became inevitable. Ukraine and Belarus are the only remaining buffers between Russia and a transcontinental military order whose sole mission is to antagonize post-Soviet Moscow (for some reason). If this buffer is lost the border would be encircled, which is obviously intolerable from a security perspective.

How would Washington react if a hostile foreign power recruited Canada and Mexico into a military alliance?

Why has the US pursued this line of provocation and escalation? And why now? Mike Whitney at The Unz Review makes a compelling case that the US is forcing a crisis in order to sabotage the Nord Stream 2 oil pipeline. He writes:

The Ukrainian crisis has nothing to do with Ukraine. It’s about Germany and, in particular, a pipeline that connects Germany to Russia called Nord Stream 2. Washington sees the pipeline as a threat to its primacy in Europe and has tried to sabotage the project at every turn. Even so, Nord Stream has pushed ahead and is now fully-operational and ready-to-go. Once German regulators provide the final certification, the gas deliveries will begin. German homeowners and businesses will have a reliable source of clean and inexpensive energy while Russia will see a significant boost to their gas revenues. It’s a win-win situation for both parties.

The US Foreign Policy establishment is not happy about these developments. They don’t want Germany to become more dependent on Russian gas because commerce builds trust and trust leads to the expansion of trade. As relations grow warmer, more trade barriers are lifted, regulations are eased, travel and tourism increase, and a new security architecture evolves. In a world where Germany and Russia are friends and trading partners, there is no need for US military bases, no need for expensive US-made weapons and missile systems, and no need for NATO. There’s also no need to transact energy deals in US Dollars or to stockpile US Treasuries to balance accounts. Transactions between business partners can be conducted in their own currencies which is bound to precipitate a sharp decline in the value of the dollar and a dramatic shift in economic power. This is why the Biden administration opposes Nord Stream. It’s not just a pipeline, it’s a window into the future; a future in which Europe and Asia are drawn closer together into a massive free trade zone that increases their mutual power and prosperity while leaving the US on the outside looking in. Warmer relations between Germany and Russia signal an end to the “unipolar” world order the US has overseen for the last 75 years. A German-Russo alliance threatens to hasten the decline of the Superpower that is presently inching closer to the abyss. This is why Washington is determined to do everything it can to sabotage Nord Stream and keep Germany within its orbit.

Indeed on the eve of operation, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has halted the process of certification for the pipeline. It is entirely plausible that economic pressure will cause him to reconsider. How much is the European Union willing to pay for petrol?

If the Ukraine crisis is an American gambit to maintain dominance over Europe, it seems destined to fail in the long term. The end of the “unipolar” order, and the commencement of a “multipolar” order, can be dated to the joint statement of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China on February 4th of this year.

Dickens at 210

“Then came the time when, inseparable from one’s own birthday, was a certain sense of merit, a consciousness of well-earned distinction. When I regarded my birthday as a graceful achievement of my own, a monument of my perseverance, independence, and good sense, redounding greatly to my honour.”—Charles Dickens, The Uncommercial Traveller.

The great Boz was born on this day in 1812. I commend to your attention the following excerpts from my book Victoriana:

Dickens and the Stage
A Ghost Story for Christmas

and assorted Dickensian posts:

London By Gaslight
A Map of Dickensian London
A Lost Portrait of Charles Dickens Rediscovered
A Portrait of Charles Dickens Returns Home
A Dickensian Shop Sign

See also:

Dickens at 209.

The Platinum Jubilee

In a radio broadcast on her twenty-first birthday in 1947, Her Majesty The Queen—then Princess Elizabeth—told the British Commonwealth and Empire, “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.” She acceded to the throne on February 6, 1952, seventy years ago today. That makes her the first British Monarch to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee.

Generations have come and gone within her reign. I was born a few years after the Silver Jubilee and am now middle aged. Not since Queen Victoria could anyone have said the same. During that time she has given us the very model of a life of service.

God save the Queen.